October 23, 2012

Saveur Love

Hot and Sour Soup: Sun La Tang

The Adam Rapoport-ization of Bon Appetit magazine just hasn't worked for me.  I shouldn't fault Mr. Rapoport, but rather publisher Conde Nast which has parlayed Mr. Rapoport's GQ background into a marketing circus. From hosted dinners pairing chefs with fashion designers to a "Desk to Dinner" fashion line in partnership with Banana Republic, the mood of the magazine has shifted from food to celebrity and fashion, feeling more like Vanity Fair. I'm all for fashion, but BA has lost its food voice, which is what I was after when I clicked the re-subscribe button year after year. Captivating food happens outside of New York City or a celebrity-packed party, too.
Move aside, BA, and make way for Saveur. This breath-of-fresh-air publication is smart, elegant, and truthful. Intriguing stories are told from Pasadena apartments, Virginia woods, and Maine gardens, as well as from Paris, Morocco and New York City. A broad perspective of history passed down through mothers and nanas, as well as new discoveries and trends is told in the pages of Saveur. The story of food and its crucial place in our lives resonates.

The recipes range from accessible week night fare to imagination-stretching elaborate endeavors. Growth as a cook is potential as a reader, as well as comfort.
Soaking Shiitakes

The October issue of Saveur is a wonderful example, offering 101 classic recipes from all over the world. Lamingtons from Australia, Tortilla Espanola, Sauerbraten, and Senate Bean Soup. Caribbean Oxtail Stew, Saag Paneer, and Beef Stroganoff; each with a warm and personal introduction from its contributor (cook book authors, chefs, and food writers.)
The Suan La Tang, Hot and Sour Soup, was perfect on a chilly evening. In three simple steps, a spicy, warming, substantive soup came together. It was as delicious as any I've ever had in any San Francisco Chinese restaurant. Its acquaintance was made like this:
Hot and sour soup is a culinary contradiction. In it, the mildest ingredients—mushrooms, tofu—are nestled in a fiery, vinegar-laced broth. It is often administered to the unwell. Other cultures soothe their sick with bland milk toast and chicken broth, but the Chinese kick their sick in the pants. This soup doesn't just warm you; it burns through you and brings you back to life. —Mei Chin, from "Sour and Spice"
I encourage you to subscribe to Saveur if you don't already. I get nothing to tell you that. I just happen to think it's one of the best $20 you'll spend this year.
Living Room, Before and After
On another note, last spring I told you about a big remodeling project that My Baby and I were undergoing at our city house. I thought I'd pass along some of the before and afters.
Master Bath Redoux
 We're coming along! It looks great, and feels wonderful, too.

October 20, 2012

Capturing Sunlight in Water: Establishing a Vineyard

Veraison- Sarver Winery
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

The first drop of ethereal wine poured from a vineyard’s debut vintage embodies years of continual evaluation, determined planning, unfailing toil, and dogged optimism. While Galileo’s conjecture, “wine is nothing more than sunlight held together by water,” makes the enterprise sound like wave-of-the-wand magic, knowledge is at the heart of growing premium wine grapes. The suitability of the vineyard site must be determined, the varietals to plant must be selected, a business plan must be developed, and only then may planting the vines take place. Once planted, the viticulturist must provide astute management and wait patiently for up to four years before harvesting the first grape clusters for wine production.
Winter Vines- King Estate Winery
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

If it is true that great wine is made in the vineyard, site selection is the primary reason; the single factor that determines the eventual success of a vineyard is the site. Climatic conditions such as growing degree days, winter temperatures, spring frosts, the length of the growing season, the presence of advantageous and problematic micro-climates and amount of precipitation all must be assessed.
Vineyard Soils Cross-section- LaVelle Vineyards
Southern Willamette Valley, Oregon

Soils require just as much attention through mapping and type analysis, verification of the lack of presence of pesky nematodes (the worm-like parasites that will rapidly devour the roots of the cherished plants,) and ascertaining that there will be just enough water to nurture the young vine roots, but not so much as to drown them.

Slope and Aspect, Unknown Vineyard
South Island, New Zealand

Not that the vine grower doesn’t already have enough to think about, she must also consider the degree and direction of the site’s slope to ensure that the sun-loving clusters will receive enough light to produce the superior flavor that wine lovers treasure. Together, these factors help determine overall site suitability as well as which varietal will have the greatest success once planted on it.
Winegrowers are Farmers, Too!

Choosing the varietal, clone, and rootstock for planting becomes the viticulturist’s next challenge of marrying science and art. The selected varietal (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.) should be more than the viticulturist’s favorite, but should be selected to meet the specific attributes of the site identified through the process of site selection. The same is true for the clones, or sub-varietals, which offer different characteristics from disease resistance to aroma and flavor profiles. Rootstock, to which the varietal is grafted, is chosen for its recognized resistance to the site’s known risks for pests, diseases and drought tolerance, greatly amplifying the odds of grape-growing success.
Row Spacing and Ground Cover- Barboursville Winery
Charlottesville, Virginia

As romantic as it sounds, a vineyard is a commercial endeavor, after all, and requires a solid business plan for success. The viticulturist must ask, “Are more people, or less, projected to drink this particular wine variety in the future? Has the market met its saturation point? Will my product offer consumers something that is not already at their fingertips? How will my wine grapes be unique?”

Trellising- Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards
Umpqua Valley, Oregon

The viticulturist must also understand and accurately project the cost of establishing her vineyard. The costs of land, soil preparation, rootstock, irrigation, trellising, and labor must all be factored. If it is determined that a need for financing exists, she must also understand the criteria for obtaining commercial or government financing and comply with that criteria.

Pruning- HillCrest Vineyards
Umpqua Valley, Oregon

A lot of effort has already gone into the vineyard venture, and only at this point is the viticulturist ready to plant the vines. Consideration now must be paid to the row direction and vine spacing. Rows are oriented to capitalize on the direction of the suns rays during ripening season; to make the most of available air flow to minimize molds and diseases; and if harvesting is to be mechanically aided, to ensure tractor safety.
Weed Management- Soter Vineyards
Northern Willamette Valley, Oregon

How vigorous the selected varietal and rootstock is, with low vigor generally producing the optimal wine grapes, determines how closely together the vines are planted. Some varietals in some conditions prefer the stress of being planted close to their neighbors; some don’t. The final test of whether the viticulturist has conducted a complete due diligence may perhaps lay in her vine spacing decisions.

Summer Heat- Beresan Vineyards
Walla Walla, Washington

With the vines firmly ensconced in their permanent home, it is now up to the viticulturist to manage them with the care a parent gives her child. The young vines will grow perfect juice-producing clusters if their leafy canopy allows enough sunlight to kiss them. The vines will stay healthy with careful watching for and early treatment of pests and diseases. Nutrients added in the form of crop rows will provide no more and no less food than what the maturing vines require.

Hans Herzog Vineyards
Marlborough, New Zealand

Eventually, with up to four years of breath-holding and constant nurture, the grapes make their way into wine. Wine which, with optimism equal to that that went into its grapey raw material, elicits sighs of, “Aaaah. Sunlight… captured in water.”

Hillside Farming, Unknown Vineyard
South Island, New Zealand

October 1, 2012

Change of Course

A Day at Amelie Robert 
 The challenge of popping back in to the blogosphere after an absence is to try to explain where I've been, which is easiest said, in brief, that life is nothing if not one exciting change of course after the other. May I make the assumption that we can pick up like old and dear friends, the kind that only need a quick summary to bring them together again? In the last five months:

  • We've increased our sanity by collapsing our living arrangements from three places to two, with the Love Nest no more. I cried a little as I drove away with my trailer full of stuff from the little town I'd called home for the previous 21 years. Even though the last few years have only been a placeholder there,  the final move marked an end. And a beginning . . .
  • The aforementioned event was precipitated by a forced reduction in work hours that not only  allows me to work from home most of the time, but also opens up time to put the wheels in motion for the biggest change of all . . .
  • I've become a full time student. Yes, after 33 years of being out of the classroom, I'm now studying for a degree in Vineyard Management/ Winemaking/ Wine Marketing. I will eventually narrow my focus to one or two of those areas, but the first few terms allow me to determine where my individual passions, skills and strengths will best fit within the wine industry. 
  • Potential has opened for some of our neighboring farmland to be made available to us for the larger-scale grape-growing venture we had imagined, but that our smaller property doesn't accommodate. We are exploring that option, and are really enthused about the possibilities it possesses.
  • My Dear Sweet Baby has also decided that since growing grapes is in his future, he should also enroll in the wine program. As he got ready for his first class, he said that the last time he went to school he wore a peace-symbol necklace, to put the event into perspective!
  • Ever interested in footwear, I figured that no self-respecting vineyard worker could go inappropriately shod, so, I purchased these...
 In addition, the refurbing of our city house that I told you about in the last post is coming along beautifully, and I promise to post some "after" photos of that project soon. And, yes, The Beast has grown on me; I've actually fallen in love with her. So, you can see that some things are falling into place for our midlife venture. 

Amalie Robert Syrah
 That leads us up to about, oh, yesterday. Our most favorite Oregon winery, Amelie Robert, which I've written about here, and here, and here, and here, held a pre-harvest tour and tasting. Ernie and Dena continue to be ever so generous with their information and learnings, both on their website and in person. Ask any question, and you'll get a thorough, thoughtful (and most likely jocular) response. They are most willing to sharing their expertise and artform. It sounded like a perfect day for us eonophiles, and now viticulture and enology students.
Up-Valley View from Amalie Robert Vineyard
We were greeted warmly by Dena, who was pouring one of each of their estate-grown varieties; Chardonnay (2009 Her Silhouette,) Viognier (2010 Our Muse,) Pinot Meunier (2010), Pinot Noir (2008 vintage Debut), and Syrah (2009 Satisfaction.) These offerings are a nice representation of the quality, structure, character, and beauty of all of the wines in the Amalie Robert portfolio. While some of the wines are in the upper end of our "everyday wine" budget, many fall more closely within our "special occasion" wine budget. Fortunately, we are ones who find things like a full moon (thank you, August, for giving us two,) a tax refund check arriving, that we were able to get the tractor started, or that we appear to have the fly problem under control as special occasions.
Beautifully Maintained Vine Rows
 After we'd sipped, Ernie took us into the lab where he offered us tastes of the juice freshly squeezed from the harvest-awaiting grapes of each varietal. I realize how much I have to learn to be able to imagine the taste of finished wine while the juice is in its unfermented form. I could discern sweetness and acidity, and that's about all that juice registered on my palate. Ernie assures us that the numbers (brix, pH, etc.) strongly guide this part of the process, and are large determiners of when to call the crews in to pick.
Chardonnay Ripening
As part of his open-handed sharing, Ernie brought out soil samples, soil survey books, site maps, aerial photos, and textbooks to open our eyes a little more to what is ahead for us in our exploration of our venture.  Ernie then graciously took us into the vineyard. Thirty acres of five varietals; block after block of row after row. Ernie is intimate with it all, knowing exactly which row has which rootstock, clone, soil type, and the best views.
Our vineyard walk filled me with a sense of neatness, tidiness, orderliness, and intimacy. I've walked quite a few vineyards in my day, but none as tended to as this. It may not be necessary to have a tidy vineyard to produce great wine, but I believe that the well-supervised vineyard at Amalie Robert gives us a glimpse of the level of detail that is put into each aspect of their production. Ernie and Dena aren't interested in producing commodity wine. They are interested in producing the highest quality wine possible.

As we drove home from our superb day, we passed another winery whose product we've tasted before and left us unimpressed. We asked each other just what made that wine so "not-good." As we continued on, we passed "the other brand's" unkempt, sprawly, shaggy vineyard, and I realize that our visits to Amalie Robert provide the answer.

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